It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out de Gea is among the few standout custodians in the game today, in the post-Kahn era. He’s established himself as an asset to the Premier League, and one of the few saving graces in the present Manchester United team – and may have kept David Moyes’ career on life support longer than it needed to be.

But is he really the best goalkeeper in the Premier League? That’s harder to state as categorically as de Gea’s tribe would have us imagine.

De Gea’s camp, that evidently includes Guardian’s writers, believes his second successive player of the month award is proof that he is the best in the league. Throw in a shoddy defense standing in front of him, and de Gea is clearly ahead of the likes of Thibaut Courtois in the talent department – or so they claim.

But is that necessarily true? Or even provable? Unlike strikers who have stats like goals, and chances converted, on their resumes – goalkeepers are judged both by what they do and also by what they don’t. The only thing we do know for certain is de Gea has a shoddy defense in front of him. That makes him far more likely to face potential shots on goal than his Chelsea counterpart ever will. Which is just a fancy way of saying de Gea’s challenge is dealing with quantity. As for quality? Well, that’s anybody’s guess.

De Gea(c)daylife.comIf – hypothetically – de Gea pulls off a dozen stops in a single game, and any average keeper could technically have kept out each individual shot, it doesn’t automatically make him the best in the league. In contrast, Courtois may only face a couple of shots on goal, shielded by the rest of the meteor shower by a defensive line that operates at an imperious level.

And it is also conceivable that some of the attempts that get past Chelsea’s defense are of a superior nature and would have tested any goalkeeper – past or present – to the limits. Courtois conceding those does not have to be a sign of relative weakness, but could just be a testament to the strength of the offensive move.

If you need a suitable analogy, look no further than the Cold War. It turns out the greatest nuclear weapons were the ones that never needed to be fired. Courtois’ claims to greatness and arguable superiority over de Gea may only be hampered by his lack of opportunities to prove said advantages. Thanks to a Terry-marshaled defense, the Belgian may never get as many runs in the park as de Gea does, and may forever deal with fewer shots than the latter does.

The closest analogy in defense of Courtois would be the use of Cold War logic: the strongest nuclear weapon is the one you never have to fire. It is not Courtois’ fault that he isn’t Chelsea’s front line of defense, in the same manner as de Gea seemingly is Manchester United’s. It is not Courtois’ fault, the four-man line in front of would keep a Soviet tank out.

It is not Courtoisai??i?? fault, the present Chelsea team has an embarrassment of riches in the first team and on the bench. It is not Courtoisai??i?? fault that for every shot he keeps out in a game, thereai??i??s Eden Hazard with a magical moment or Diego Costa with another notch on his list or John Terry with a miraculous last ditch tackle to take the headlines away. Or a certain Didier Drogba who comes off the bench, to turn back time.

Chelsea FC Transfer News - Atletico Madrid - Thibaut CourtoisCourtois comes off worse in a shots saved comparison with de Gea, because of the nature of the challenges they face. Not that either one is necessarily easier to deal with.

Itai??i??s like being asked whether youai??i??d prefer being shot at by a machine gun, or by a sniper’s rifle. Itai??i??s hard to have a preference, really.

De Gea may have to deal with the recurring gunfire from a badly trained militia member toting an AK47, but Courtois may be dealing with the incisive efforts of a sharp marksman. De Gea’s senses may need to be on a permanent high for all 90 minutes dealing with recurring tests, but Courtois may have the tougher job anxiously guessing when the sole sucker punch attempt on his goal is going to materialize.

The final argument in Courtoisai??i?? favor is that he regularly keeps Petr Cech, at the peak of his powers, out of the Chelsea line-up. Would de Gea have done likewise to Edwin van der Saar at his peak?

Entirely possible, and entirely debatable.

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